Decoding HK$250m Sanyu's Five Nudes Which Is Set to Smash the Artist's Auction Record

Five Nudes, Sanyu’s largest painting featuring female nudes, will go under the hammer at Christie's in Hong Kong this November. It is expected to fetch HK$250m (US$31.87m), a new auction record for Sanyu, who was hailed as the "Chinese Matisse". Why does the auction house have so much confidence in this painting while most people don't share the same optimism about the Asian market? What's so special about this painting? We have invited Francis Belin, President of Christie's Asia and Evelyn Lin, International Director & Head of Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art Department, to decode this masterpiece. 

Sanyu. Five Nudes

Created in: 1950-1959
Signed lower right Yu in Chinese and SANYU in French
Size: 120 x 175 cm
Estimate: HK$250,000,000

Francis Belin, President of Christie’s Asia

Francis: We are extremely excited to have Five Nudes from Sanyu for this season. It’s a testimony of our leadership in selling masterpieces globally and in Asia. We have set many records for Sanyu in the past. Last year, Christie’s sold eight of the ten most expensive objects globally. I think the leadership we have set in selling masterpieces is definitely helping us to convince sellers to entrust us with such amazing property.

There are microeconomic uncertainty and the situation that we know in Hong Kong. However, what we observe since the beginning of this year is a very strong collector community looking for the best object. And we are equally confident that this season in November will be a strong one.

The indication that we have from our last sales: the one we had in Shanghai a few weeks ago with a very strong sell-through rate.The Asia Week in New York, more than a third of the buyers were coming from Greater China. Mid-season sales that we had in here or selling exhibitions in Shanghai, all indicate that buying from Asian collectors remains very strong. That’s why we are so confident to bring this masterpiece to the market. The low estimate for the painting is HK$250m. We think this painting will sell very well.

Evelyn Lin | Deputy Chairman, International Director & Head of Department
Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art Department, Christie’s

Evelyn: This is currently the only known painting of Five Nudes by Sanyu and this is also the largest one among Sanyu’s nude paintings, which makes it an extremely rare example in private hands. Although it is an oil painting, the representation is actually very Eastern. The lines you see in the nudes figures are like painted with calligraphy brush whereas the flowers in the lower part are presented in an ink-wash painting style. And you can see the dynamic between the cat and squirrel, which makes the work come to life. The most special part is the dark background which is rarely seen in Sanyu’s work. So this painting encapsulates all the essence of Sanyu works in the 50s.

Evelyn: Sanyu had other paintings of standing nudes. Yet, it is unprecedented to see five standing nudes. In terms of the composition, painting a standing nude is more difficult than a reclining nude. Because you need to paint the whole body for standing nude. So, it’s very challenging to present all five nudes in a single composition. You can see here, all five of them are not standing on the same flat layer. Some are a little bit on the front while the others are a little bit at the back.

The painting was acquired by the current owner in 2011 and has remained in the collection since then for 7, 8 years. It will be presented in our evening sale at Christie's in Hong Kong.